Retro-active prayer.

I overheard a most interesting dialogue between two of my friends the other day (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

**Frank:**So, can I legitimately pray for England to win the match if the match has already been played, but I haven’t seen the result.
**Henry:**Sure, our God is not restricted to our perspective of time and can start to set in motion the answers to your prayers before you even ask them.
**Frank:**I see.


**Frank:**I’m still praying for Joe to become a Christian
**Henry:**But Joe died a six weeks ago, as far as we know, (person) never made any commitment of belief.
**Frank:**Yes, but you said our God is not restricted by time, so I can pray now that God will intervene in Joe’s life in such a way as to bring him to a knowledge of Christ.
**Henry:**Yes, but that’s different.

OK, let’s not get into a discussion about whether prayer works, whether God exists, or whether football is a legitimate prayer topic, but theists (and atheists too, if you fancy tackling this from a purely theoretical stance); I think Frank was more consistent in his approach that Henry, and if you accept that retro-active prayers are possible, then surely there’s no limit on scope, or is there?

So, the debate is: (assuming that prayer is worthwhile in ‘real’ terms)
Is retro-active prayer possible?
Is there any limit to it’s scope?

[sub](When I discussed this IRL the other day, one of my friends said “I’ve been praying about the battle of Hastings, that it would go the other way”)[/sub]

Does this mean that England still have a chance in the 1990 World Cup?

It all depends on God. If he exists and is omnipotent, then he may chose to alter the past in response to prayer. But, and it’s a big but, if he had, would we notice?

For example, suppose England did win the World Cup in 1990, but 70 million hard praying Germans reversed the result. And perhaps the Saxons did win at Hastings but Bishop Odo organised a post-match prayfest and got the result reversed on a technicality.

In any case, it could not possibly have an effect from your POV. It might not be useless, depending on your interpretation but, even so…

why would God come down and dictate to his angels:


I mean, He seems to like a solid work ethic, and hard work pays off.

I think that both Frank and Henry acknowledged that it would only work on things where the outcome was unknown to the person praying (sort of spiritual observer effect, I suppose).

But the outcome is known to other people, so their (Frank & Henry) prayers cannot have any effect - the wave function has already collapsed.

I’m praying for Schroedinger’s cat right now.

And I don’t want to know the outcome, so it should work, eh?

See, there you go, applying logic to it all… :wink:

Ehexcellent. Just yesterday, I prayed to God that Joe, a devout Christian, would have recanted his Christianity and become a nonbeliever before he died.

And look what happened!

I want you all to look around you and think about the things going on in your life RIGHT NOW just because in a couple of weeks I’m gonna pray for them to happen.


This comes back to a heated debate in another thread - sorry, can’t find it - about what it means to say that God is omnipotent.
Most posters agreed with the view that to say that God is omnipotent does not mean that he can do the logically impossible or nonsensical. If reversing the temporal direction of cause and effect inevitably involves an irreconcilable contradiction, then God cannot do it. He is still omnipotent.

Incidentally, from a Christian perspective, there is nothing odd about praying for someone who has already died. He hasn’t ceased to exist, he has just died. We do not fully understand the nature of his post-death existence, but there is no reason to assume that prayers for him are futile.

My personal religious views notwithstanding:

GIVEN: God is omniscient and omnipotent.

When God said “Let there be light”, he already knew how the battle of Hastings would work out, how the 1990 World Cup would work out, and who would be rooting for whom after the fact.

Thus, from the human perspective, you’d never notice any sort of miraculous change in history, because the outcome was predetermined. So, lets say you’re praying for England to win, and God decides to answer your prayer. England will have one. Again, from the human perspective, it already happened so there won’t be any incongruity WRT people who viewed the event as it happened. God will have made it happen that way in the first place.

Assuming God decides to go back and re-write history, it will still never be apparent from the human perspective. It will simply always have been that way.

Finally, WRT the scope of retro-active prayer, you’d be placing a restriction on God. IMO, if such a being were to exist, God is all-powerful. Therefore, there is no limit on what he can and can not do, though there might be limits on he will or will not do.

I suppose you could say that a believer’s prayer should always be (in essence) “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

If that is what you are praying, then whether the actions (to bring about God’s will) have taken place yet or not is immaterial.

Of course, that begs the question of why we pray for things in the first place… if it is not to influence God in our favoured direction, then what is it for? To which (he said to himself) the answer could be - “To bring my will in line with God’s, so that my favoured direction and His will are one and the same.”

If we translate that into a situation where you are praying for something that has already happened, then what you are really asking is “When I find out what it is that has happened, help me to accept that as your will.”

Grim :confused:

[Prays very hard that Kennedy won the 1960 Presidential election, and not Nixon]

“Hey! It worked!

Well, I’m just coming to this thread now, so I’m gonna try an experiment. I’m gonna pray to God that He’ll have let me post in the thread a couple of hours ago.

Let’s see if this works…

I think Henry’s main objection to retro-active conversion is that it is pounded into Christian’s heads pretty good that you have ONE CHANCE to get it right in re your religious beliefs, and if you don’t, it’s Hell for you. If you could perform a post-mortem rescue of someone consigned to firey torment, the conversion message of Christinity would be a good bit less imperative.

Isn’t formal logic a human development? If so, does this mean that human logic comes from a power higher than God if he cannot contradict it? And in that case doesn’t “omnipotent” with respect to God’s powers lose all meaning?

This might have been thrashed out on the other thread, but isn’t “nonsensical” context sensitive? I remember many funerals for young people whose death, by human standards, was nonsensical. People ask themselves, “How could a good God have allowed this to happen?” The minister usually tries to explain it away by saying something to the effect that our standards are not the same as God’s.

But what if the ultimate end of someone’s religious beliefs, no matter how tangentially, depended on whether England takes the cup? (i.e. a chain of reactions after the game causes someone to see things a different way, he meets a nice Christian girl at an after party who eventually converts him as opposed to the atheist chick he meets otherwise, etc.)

Isn’t ANY retroactive change basically the same thing as long as we admit that events have any impact at all on the course of people’s lives?

The Jewish answer:

The Mishna (Berachos, chapter 9) deals with this very issue. The ruling there is that one should not pray based on what has already happened. Two examples of this are given:

  1. A person approaching his home city hears cries and screams from the city and prays that it wasn’t from his house.

  2. A person whose wife is pregnant and prays that the child should be a boy.

In both these cases, the past is the past and prayer will not change that.

Zev Steinhardt

England has always won the match. England has never lost the match.